Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Taos Rock Art Petroglyphs

Water Color Post Card by Robert Ray (1924-2002), the reason I'm including this image is that I consider this the Robert Ray Petroglyph Site, which is what it should be named officially (and this is a painting which I own).
Above is a depiction of damage to petroglyphs from water run off. Although people get most of the blame for damaging petroglyphs, from walking on them, chalking in the outlines to get a better photograph, chipping at them to remove them, and making their own contemporary graffiti at sites. Please don't do any of these things!
Here's one of the best images I've ever seen! The Painter, the Guitar Player, the Teacher...
Petroglyphs lie along waterways and through canyons in the great southwest, here in Taos we are fortunate to have a number of sites, unfortunately they tend to be on Private Property. There are many just off Blueberry Hill on the Lower Las Colonias side but you'd need permission to go hunting for them. There are some great ones just south of Taos on the hillside overlooking the village of Pilar by the cemetery, (landmarks are a Water tank and a large Penitente Cross). These too, are fast becoming part of private property as more and more people build houses on this hillside.
All of the petroglyphs I'm showing here in these photographs are at a site next to the Rio Pueblo de Taos in Los Cordovas. From what I'm told this is a sacred site to the people of Taos Pueblo. In which case if you do get to visit this place, PLEASE don't disturb anything, such as bones, feathers, & the rocks themselves. On top of this site sits a house built and once owned by the Taos Modernist artist Robert Ray, the house was left by the estate to the Harwood Museum, which then sold it and is currently owned by people I have not met, yet. I consider the current owners the caretakers of a very important spiritual center, respect their privacy, do not climb the rocks to get a better view of the rock art. Above is the first panel you'll come upon.
A mixed panel of critters and symbols.
Note the ram on the bottom left with the extra long back leg. Rams and crosses are abundant here, crosses can be interpreted as signs of early Penitente activity, Or as Dragonflies, Or as Stars. Rams point out directions to go in and how many days it will take.
This site does not have spiral pictographs it does have many circles within circles, which can be interpreted as solar or to me a vortex.
Above and below are abstract depictions sometimes looking like faces and sometimes containing ritualistic bird figures. There are many of these at the Three Rivers Petroglyph park in the southern part of New Mexico, and some at the petroglyph park south of Albuquerque.
For better interpretive material than what I can provide here the books "The Rocks Begin to Speak" & "A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest" these books describe these authors interpretations, and I'll say no more. My own interpretations are from my own experiences, research, intuition and field studies.
Without getting too carried away with my own interpretations I would call the one on the left an emergence, possibly a figure coming out of the Sipapu into this world, with the one on the right looking like a cloud formation but I think it's much more than that more of a Kiva (sometimes referred to as Estufas) image.
A bird figure, possibly anthropomorphic. The difference between pictographs, and petroglyphs is basically the former can be painted onto rock surfaces with locally found mineral 'paints' and are usually found in caves or below shelf cliffs which help to protect the images from the elements, the latter are found on basalt or dark rock formations and can be found on boulders or on cliff faces the images are pecked or scratched onto the surface.
The Kokopelli figures found here have no indication of flutes, they do have the typical 'humpback', whch is why I will call them Kokopelli.
This figure is high on a rock surface, there are times when petroglyphs are so high up on rock walls you wonder how they got up there.
One of my favorites, human coming out of the earth, out of a Kiva, or again emerging from the Sipapu.
The Human figure to the left looks similar to the one in close up but is on a different panel. More Circles within circles, this panel with a snake/water symbol at the top. Water symbols will typically point the way towards a nearby source of water. As snakes are known to be near water sources please watch your step. Stepping over logs and rocks can lead to startling a snake from it's rest and it striking you with a venomous bite.
Another figure with hands over head in an emergence position, this one has horns, hmmm....
Typical signs of the Bear Clan on a large boulder, probably still to this day respectful caretakers of this site.
On the upper left another bear clan symbol. The moss and lichen which are true destroyers of many petroglyphs worldwide.
Steps leading away from the water source which the snake is pointing towards.
A deer image with large rack of antlers.
An enormous snake image but unlike most this one is rather straight. Images of Rams and Humans reaching to the...
Dragonfly Cross on top of Double Rams.
A large pecked Ram, missing head possible sign of vandalism or just chaffing of the rock formation. The worst thing about this site is that years ago people were going in with bulldozers and removing entire boulders for landscaping projects in Taos and Santa Fe. That is why today the area is blocked off to the nth degree with barbed wire fencing, plenty of No Tresspassing and Private Property signs, making for a rather foreboding place.
As you can see ceremonial activity from nearby Taos Pueblo and perhaps other groups of indigenous people still takes place here, respect this and leave it alone.
Here's my thing, I first came to the Southwest and Taos in particular to wander around and find sites like this for inspiration. I've been painting animal style rock art paintings since the early 80's, the gallery I showed with in NYC was formally called Pictogram, but eventually changed it's name to Trabia-MacAffee, and no longer exists. Nowadays, I'm here in Taos Painting in my Gallery, Two Graces, I still paint animal images in this manner and believe that if you love this sort of thing wouldn't it be better to have an artists interpretation on your wall rather than stealing these priceless examples. For more examples of my artwork please visit my gallery website If you are interested in seeing this particular site please get in touch and I'll be happy to give you a tour of it, when my schedule allows. I do have permission to visit this incredible place.


  1. wonderful informative and inspirational post! love all the photos and the sites, and your piece at the bottom is great! x